by Christopher Pettit
The neck is a very complex part of the body and many people can experience varying degrees of pain in the area.
It encompasses a large number of tissues, which are neatly held in place by dynamic and passive stabilisers. The dynamic stabilisers are more commonly known as muscles and tendons and you will know the passive stabilisers as ligaments and bone.
The neck is located at the top of the spine and it is subject to the curvature of the spine below and the position of the head above. Its main job is to create a balance that allows it to support your head and keep your eyes looking forwards and it does this to the best of its ability when the whole spine adopts a ‘neutral’ position. This is when head is stabilised and the weight is evenly balanced throughout your body so it shares the load equally between the dynamic and static tissues.
What causes neck pain?
Acute neck pain and chronic neck pain can both be very debilitating. Because the neck is closely connected to other areas of the body, neck problems can be accompanied by upper back pain, shoulder blade pain and headaches.
Usually, neck pain symptoms arise when the balance is disrupted by a sudden impact, such as an accident causing whiplash, or when a patient regularly adopts a posture that is not in the neutral position. Both of these can lead to tissue damage, which in turn triggers the body’s alarm system and causes pain.
Treating neck problems with rehabilitation
The symptoms of neck pain can be treated with a targeted program of exercises that uses a combination of stretching, strengthening and aerobic conditioning to restore the balance.
As a rehabilitative physiotherapist at Broadgate Spine & Joint Clinic, I use specialised tests to identify which structures need to be stretched and which should be strengthened to enable unloading of the relevant tissues and restoration of a neutral and pain-free position.
This allows a patient to begin targeted stretching, which restores the range of motion and elasticity. It also helps to relieve stiffness and specific strengthening, stabilises the joints of the spine and improves their endurance to sustain favourable postures. Aerobic exercise also helps because it releases endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers, and helps to reduce muscle tension.
Common problem neck muscles
Neck pain can be caused when certain muscles become tight or weak, particularly in people with desk-based jobs. The most common muscles that can be affected are:
- Scalene muscles – three pairs of muscles that help to rotate the neck
- Suboccipital muscles – four pairs of muscles that are used to rotate the head
- Pectoralis minor muscles – a pair of thin triangular muscles at the upper part of the chest
- Subscapularis muscles – a pair of large triangular muscles near each shoulder joint
- Levator scapulae muscles – a pair of muscles located at the back and side of the neck
If you are interested in finding out more about treating neck pain with stretches and strengthening exercises, take a look at the following links: scalene stretch, suboccipital stretch, pectoralis minor muscles, subscapularis and the levator scapulae.